Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Yet life is what we make of it!

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Perhaps the fundamental reason why I am so hooked on this world of blogging is because there are always wonderful surprises.  What do I mean by this?

Yesterday’s post, Sometimes the world seems very strange was a rather bleak affair. I had been affected by, and reported, a couple of items read elsewhere that seemed to me, in a rather dark and miserable way, to highlight what is wrong with our so-called modern society. Perhaps, no more clearly expressed than in my reply to a comment left by Sue Dreamwalker.

Here is what Sue said, and how I replied.

I agree with what Alex has to say… The super rich live in a totally different reality… Have no clues on the real structure of how their wealth is being created often on the backs of the poor. Who are squeezed ever tighter at every conceivable way of extracting more in the form of taxes, both on incomes and on everything else..

Change will come but what frightens you Paul is that when it does come it will come swiftly.. We have seen the social unrest in other nations… What is happening in many countries is the injustices and discriminations which are getting ordinary peoples backs up..

Stupid Gun Laws to teach children how to handle weapons..

Yes Paul sometimes the world is very Strange.. and also Very Stupid!..

Thank you and wishing you and Jean a lovely week


Sue, a wonderful reply from you. Thank you. What I find so strange is this. That here I am, turned 70-years-old, having enjoyed a fabulously interesting life, full of variety and opportunities. That, to some small degree, I believe I have a better, albeit still partial, sense of how we humans tick than, say, 20 years ago. How our lives fundamentally revolve around our relationships, with the most important one being our relationship with ourself and, flowing from that, some understanding of who we are!

Yet, (and you knew there was a ‘yet’ coming, didn’t you!) beyond the very small world of loved ones, family and close friends (and I count blogging friends in that last category) the world around me becomes more strange, more remote, more alien almost on a week-by-week basis.

I was born in the middle of London six months to the day of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Those first six months would have been unrecognisable to the later world I grew up in, and got to know. My fear is that I will spend the last six months of my life in a world that is similarly unrecognisable from the world I thought I knew.

Thank my lucky stars for a wonderful, loving woman in my life and for so many fabulous doggie friends.

Sue, apologies, I went on a tad – nay, a tad and a half!

Fondest love to you and your Hubby.


I think that makes it pretty clear what my mood was like yesterday morning.

Jean and I were out from 9am until 12:30 pm and it was coming up to 3pm when I sat down in front of my PC. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue as to what to write and still felt pretty miserable about the ‘strange world’.

However, one of the first things that I saw in my ‘in-box’ was the weekly email from the Rev. Terry Hershey. Here is how his email opened up:

Live deeply and deliberately

January 12, 2015


“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” Pema Chodron

“On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love,
and on his left hand was the word fear,
And in which hand he held his fate was never clear.”
Bruce Springsteen: “Cautious Man

To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” Wow! Did that ‘speak’ to me or what!

Then the very next item in my ‘in-box’ was a note that “Deaf Duke is now following Learning from Dogs“. I try and make it across to every new follower of this blog and thank them for their support.  Seems the least I should do.

So it was with ‘Deaf Duke’. But I have to quietly admit that before clicking on the link I found myself wondering just what Deaf Duke was.

Then I went across to their place and was uplifted; hugely so!  Because Deaf Duke is the name of a blog that … well in their words ….



Deaf Duke is an American Bulldog mix that my boyfriend (Tyler) and I got just after the Fourth of July this year. He was only 6.5 weeks old when we got him so he had some issues to begin with. When he was about 6 months old we decided to take him to a trainer, we thought he was a bad dog because he would never listen to us, we soon found out that he was becoming deaf. He wasn’t a bad dog he just couldn’t hear us. Our lives changed a lot from that moment on. Everyone says that training a deaf dog is no harder than training a dog that can hear, which is true on so many levels but they never talk about how difficult it can be for the owners who are primarily vocal beings. This blog is about the upbringing and stories about Duke and his life.

Here’s a post from Deaf Duke from last December.

Skinny Boy


When we got Duke at 6.5 weeks old he was very under weight. Finding out that he was deaf could explain why he was. Deaf dogs generally don’t wake up for feedings because they cannot hear when the other puppies in the litter are eating. Duke is now a healthy and happy 7 month old boy learning just like his parents are to train him and us.


So thank you Terry, and thank you Duke and your Mum and Dad, for reminding me that life is utterly and whole-heartedly what we make of it!

Onwards and upwards!


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Two very different expressions of hope and sense about the present era of change.

First off, up until yesterday morning at 6am, I had completely different ideas for today’s post.  But sitting up in bed yesterday morning reading my emails, I saw there was an email from Jon Lavin that included a link to this: Hope for the New Year: some thoughts on emergence, evolution, freedom, love and choice, by Bronwen Rees. Dr. Rees describes herself, as:

Bronwen is a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist with nine years experience and a practice in Cambridge, Suffolk and Hungary. She is trained in the Karuna Institute in Devon in core process psychotherapy, which was the first mindfulness-based therapy in the UK. She adds to this her unique understanding of western and eastern spiritual traditions, combined with findings in new science – to find ways of helping individuals align with their true destiny. She runs retreats and workshops and group work at different times of the year.

I was vaguely aware of the name. Perhaps unsurprisingly as I was familiar with the work of the Karuna Institute at their beautiful location at Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Dartmoor, Devon, some eighteen miles from where I used to live in Harberton, Devon.



Anyway, back to the theme of today’s post. Back to Jon Lavin’s email with the link. This is how that essay from Dr. Rees opened:

by Bronwen Rees on January 1, 2015

In the face of the on-going and now undeniable social, economic, environmental and political crises, there are plenty of seeds of ‘emergence’ that point to a new way forward. These are flowering in the area of sustainability, spirituality, and the reworking of ancient systems of wisdom. They point to a new way of being and relating where, it is implied, one can manifest at will one’s desires.

Whilst there is a distinct truth in much of this, and many examples where this can obviously work (vis the outpouring of new technological companies providing ever more zany products), they are very early developments fostering to individual satisfaction rather than being consciously channeled into the benefits of the collective. The scale of change in terms of consciousness has largely not yet been realized. One of the main reasons for this is the as yet imbalance in the relationship between the collective and the individual, and the lack of a conscious ethical foundation.

I sort of understood the central message but the words were getting in the way.  Take this later paragraph, for instance:

Humanity is at a bifurcation point – a point of irreversible change – where conscious choice determines the future that is created. Neo-Darwinian theorists would argue that this is merely a point of survival, and given the current scientific data about the material conditions – peak oil, energy, economic chaos, severe mental health issues, the conditions would suggest that we are as a species heading for disaster. Balanced between over-population and yet greater and greater individualization with more and more apparent choice – how can the two perspectives be reconciled on this seemingly increasingly small planet?

Indeed, my email reply to Jon, having struggled through the full essay said: “Good day to you, Jon, Yes, what a fascinating essay albeit written in a manner that makes it a very tough read! Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the good Dr. is spot on in her analysis.

The very next item opened in my email inbox was notification of a new post from Sue Dreamwalker: My Dream ∼ Translated I just had to share. Let me, in turn, share Sue’s post with you; with her kind permission, I should add.


My Dream ∼ Translated I just had to share

Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” ― Ludwig van Beethoven

On Jan 3rd I had a Dream.. Please click on the music video below so you can get a sense of some of my experience.. .. Sunday I tried to capture some of the images I had in the dream… So I painted.. But I saw Oh so so much more………

In the beginning of the dream.. She was Me.. As I began to sing.. but then I became the observer.. This has to be the best Dream experience ever… .. So I had to share.. I heard the Music… Music like I have never heard upon this earth… the video music is about as close as I can get to that feeling of being exalted to a higher place.. I am still so excited I cannot tell you the Love I felt within this experience.. If this is the beginning of 2015.. Whoooooh… Let it roll……..

My Dream..

“She stood in a gown that was a rich golden brown. Its fabric shimmered catching the light that reflected from the crystals of natural quartz that sprang up around her. The gown was long and flowing not only did it reach the floor, but it spiralled out around her in a never ending dance as it became one with the sphere of the Earth.


Sue’s painting.


She took a deep breath; here she stood in the centre of the globe called Gaia.

Her hair was so long the wind picked it up to billow out behind her in long tresses. Birds flew in and amongst her strands of hair, Insects and butterflies danced within making it their home.

With breath still poised, she raised her arms like a conductor of an orchestra. She expanded her lungs and she began to Sing…. Her Soprano voice was pure. The moment her voice vibration raised higher the spiral of her gown buried deeper into the Earth. The Grass became part of her gown. Trees sprang forth from the folds of it swaying to her melody of love; Flowers opened their blooms, each petal giving separate notes in a wonderful exotic dance of harmonic ripples.. Love notes rippled like the keys of the piano. The buds on the trees open their leaves their notes sounded deeper like a million cello’s. Birds sang their flute like songs and the butterflies wings danced lighter than bell chimes.

Water trickled into streams, clear and sparking like the strings of the violin.. They swelled in a crescendo in waves that beat the rocks crashing in like kettle drums smashing like symbols into glistening spray..

The Whales joined in her song a mournful lament, while deep in the jungle the elephants gave a low rumble to acknowledge they had heard.. The roar of the Big Cats were heard above the cries of the orangutan’s

As the Thunderous machines of man cut swaths leaving deep scars that screeched like vultures circling over head, to give way to silence………. as they circled over the corpses of everything left dying in its wake..

She paused……………. ready to continue…….. Her arms raised high above her head, she Sang.. her voice becoming a crescendo with the Earth, her breath became the Spiral.. Her Hair became the Wind.. The notes she sang sprang forth from her mouth forming hearts and stars.. Every living creature now joined in her song…

She knew her Song of love was being joined by so many more.. She was ONE with ALL.. She was part of our Earth Mother..”


I hope you enjoyed reading about this Dream and I hope you enjoyed listening to the wonderful music of the PianoGuys

See you all very soon…



In a very strange way, I read the same messages from Dr. Rees and from Sue but presented in such opposite ways: one way so complex and one way to clear. So strongly reinforced by their respective closing words. Here’s Dr. Rees:

Whilst there is real potential for the expansion of consciousness, this does not by any means suggest that this will arise without individual effort and struggle. All the enlightened masters of the past needed to move through this gateway – the difference between then and now is that the conditions are far riper for more individuals to undergo this – and indeed can be seen as a biological necessity for the survival of the human species. Thus as individuals, we cannot avoid this, but what we can do, and indeed as a biological and spiritual imperative, we can support one another and help organize ourselves in dedication of this purpose, in a mutual recognition of each individual uniqueness yet shared destiny.

Here are Sue’s closing words: “She knew her Song of love was being joined by so many more.. She was ONE with ALL.. She was part of our Earth Mother..

However, there is one uniting theme I read from both of them: Hope!

Life is never a rehearsal.

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I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou


In a poignant way, it seems appropriate to feature that quote from Maya Angelou in opening today’s post simply because this wonderful, spiritual woman died earlier on this year; on the 28th May, 2014.

Born in 1928 in St Louis, MO, Maya was, “… an American author, poet, dancer, actress and singer. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years.” (Wikipedia)

In case you are wondering why this post is reflective on life, and the inevitability of death, it is simply because in thirty-minutes time, the last (draft) chapter of ‘the book’ is being published in this place, and I was looking for something to ‘set the tone’, as it were. That last chapter is entitled: And show us the way to embrace death, and the companion to: How the dog offers us a way into our own soul, that was published yesterday.

To be precise, I had in mind two elements in setting the tone. The first being that powerful quotation that is today’s sub-heading and the second being the reposting of a recent item from Val Boyco.

As is the way in this interconnected world of blogging, I hadn’t previously heard of Val Boyco until she signed up to follow my humble scribblings in this place. Naturally, I went across to her blogsite, Find Your Middle Ground, and very quickly signed up to follow her, in return.  That’s how I came to see ‘All Things Change‘; reposted here with Val’s very kind permission.


All Things Change


All things arise

Suffer change

And pass away.

This is their nature.

When you know this …

…you become still.

It is easy.

The Ashtavakra Gita


We spend so much time and energy avoiding the way life actually unfolds, and most of the time we are unaware that we are doing this.

We have created these habits over time to avoid facing the uncomfortable feelings that are a part of life.

When we pause and create spaciousness, the resistance begins to dissipate and our inner consciousness grows.

Each time we make space, trust grows.

The more we trust, the more we grow beyond our conditioning and habits and create more space.

With space, life flows freely.

Taking time to connect inwards will not save your life, but may save you from a life of struggle and discontent.



I’m going to close today’s post with a wonderful quote from Sharon Salzberg, taken from her book: Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation. It seems as relevant and as powerful as that opening quote from Maya Angelou.

It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held on to the old view.

May we all turn on the lights in ourselves so that we may better leave a light burning in the hearts and minds of others.

For our lives are for real!

Written by Paul Handover

December 23, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Five: Stillness

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The last quality that I want to write about, as in the last quality that I see in our dogs that we humans should learn, is about stillness. There was a very deliberate reason to make it the last one. But, if you will forgive me, I’m not going to explain why until near the end.

Stillness! The dog is the master of being still. Being still, either from just laying quietly watching the world go by, so to speak, or being still from being fast asleep. The ease at which they can find a space on a settee, a carpeted corner of a room, the covers of a made-up bed, and stretch out and be still, simply beggars belief. Dogs offer us humans the most wonderful quality of stillness that we should all practice. Dogs reveal their wonderful relationship with stillness.

In the August of 2014, TED Talks published a talk by Pico Iyer. Despite the uncommon name, Pico Iyer was not a person I had heard of before. A quick search revealed that he was a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian origin. Apparently, Pico is the author of a number of books on crossing cultures and has been an essayist for Time Magazine since 1986. Pico Iyer’s TED Talk was called: The art of stillness.

It was utterly riveting. In a little over fifteen minutes, Pico’s talk touched on something that so many of us feel, probably even yearn for: the need for space and stillness in our minds. Stillness to offset the increasingly excessive movement and distractions of our modern world. Or to use Pico’s words:”Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds.

Now Pico has clearly been a great traveller and the list of countries and places he has visited was impressive. From Kyoto to Tibet, from Cuba to North Korea, from Bhutan to Easter Island; a man having grown up both being a part of, and yet apart from, the English, American and Indian cultures. Yet of all the places this man has been to he tops them all with what he discovers in stillness: “… that going nowhere was at least as exciting as going to Tibet or to Cuba.

Here are Pico Iyer’s own words from that TED Talk. Firstly:

And by going nowhere, I mean nothing more intimidating than taking a few minutes out of every day or a few days out of every season, or even, as some people do, a few years out of a life in order to sit still long enough to find out what moves you most, to recall where your truest happiness lies and to remember that sometimes making a living and making a life point in opposite directions.

Then a few moments later, him saying:

And of course, this is what wise beings through the centuries from every tradition have been telling us. It’s an old idea. More than 2,000 years ago, the Stoics were reminding us it’s not our experience that makes our lives, it’s what we do with it.
And this has certainly been my experience as a traveler. Twenty-four years ago I took the most mind-bending trip across North Korea. But the trip lasted a few days. What I’ve done with it sitting still, going back to it in my head, trying to understand it, finding a place for it in my thinking, that’s lasted 24 years already and will probably last a lifetime. The trip, in other words, gave me some amazing sights, but it’s only sitting still that allows me to turn those into lasting insights. And I sometimes think that so much of our life takes place inside our heads, in memory or imagination or interpretation or speculation, that if I really want to change my life I might best begin by changing my mind.

Emails, ‘smartphones’, telephone handsets all around the house, television, junk mail on an almost daily basis, advertising in all its many forms, always lists of things to do; and on and on. It’s as if in this modern life, with the so many wonderful ways of doing stuff, connecting, being entertained, and more, that we have forgotten how to do the most basic and fundamental of things: Nothing! It’s as if so many of us have lost sight of the greatest luxury of all: immersing ourselves in that empty space of doing nothing.

Thus it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that more and more people are taking conscious and deliberate measures to open up a space inside their lives. Whether it is something as simple as listening to some music just before they go to sleep, because those that do notice that they sleep much better and wake up much refreshed, or taking technology ‘holidays’ during the week, or attending Yoga classes or enrolling on a course to learn Transcendental Meditation, there is a growing awareness that something in us is crying out for the sense of intimacy and depth that we get from people who take the time and trouble to sit still, to go nowhere.

Even science supports the benefits of slowing down the brain. In an article[1] posted on the Big Think blogsite, author Steven Kottler explains what are called ‘flow states’: “a person in flow obtains the ability to keenly hone their focus on the task at hand so that everything else disappears.

Elaborating in the next paragraph, as follows:

“So our sense of self, our sense of self-consciousness, they vanish. Time dilates which means sometimes it slows down. You get that freeze frame effect familiar to any of you who have seen The Matrix or been in a car crash. Sometimes it speeds up and five hours will pass by in like five minutes. And throughout all aspects of performance, mental and physical, go through the roof.”

The part of our brain known as the prefrontal cortex houses our higher cognitive functions such as our sense of morality, our sense of will, and our sense of self. It is also that part of our brain that calculates time. When we experience flow states or what is technically known as ‘transient hypofrontality’, we lose track of time, lose our grip on assessing the past, present, and future. As Kotler explains it, “we’re plunged into what researchers call the deep now.

Steven Kotler then goes on to say:

“So what causes transient hypofrontality? It was once assumed that flow states are an affliction reserved only for schizophrenics and drug addicts, but in the early 2000s a researcher named Aaron Dietrich realized that transient hypofrontality underpins every altered state — from dreaming to mindfulness to psychedelic trips and everything in between. Sometimes these altered states involve other parts of the brain shutting down. For example, when the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex disconnects, your sense of self-doubt and the brain’s inner critic get silenced. This results in boosted states of confidence and creativity.”

Don’t worry about the technical terms, just go back and re-read those last two sentences, “For example, when the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex disconnects, your sense of self-doubt and the brain’s inner critic get silenced. This results in boosted states of confidence and creativity.”

All from stillness!

Back to Pico Iyer’s talk and his concluding words:

So, in an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still. So you can go on your next vacation to Paris or Hawaii, or New Orleans; I bet you’ll have a wonderful time. But, if you want to come back home alive and full of fresh hope, in love with the world, I think you might want to try considering going nowhere. Thank you.

At the start of this chapter, I mentioned that I would leave it until the end to explain why I deliberately made this one on stillness the last one in the series of dog qualities we humans have to learn.

Here’s why. For the fundamental reason that it is only through the stillness of mind, the stillness of mind that we so beautifully experience when we hug our dog, or close our eyes and bury our face in our dog’s warm fur; it is that stillness of mind, that like any profound spiritual experience, that has the power to transform our mind from negative to positive, from disturbed to peaceful, from unhappy to happy.

The power of overcoming negative minds and cultivating constructive thoughts, of experiencing transforming meditations is right next to us in the souls of our dogs.

Sanctuary is where you go to cherish your life. It’s where you practice being present. And it may not be that many steps from where you are, right now.” The Rev. Terry Hershey.

1,523 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://bigthink.com/think-tank/steven-kotler-flow-states

Written by Paul Handover

December 19, 2014 at 00:30

The book! Part Five: Forgiveness.

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Dogs offer a multitude of examples of forgiveness that many of us probably don’t see. Well, do not see that quality of forgiveness of dogs in such a clear, specific way. Yet think of dogs that are treated cruelly, often over months or years, and then find a new, loving home. Think of dogs that have spent weeks and months in confinement at the local humane centre. Or more terrible to comprehend are those dogs that have simply been abandoned; just thrown away by a so-called human.

We take it totally for granted, when dogs find that new loving home, that they will adjust quickly and easily. For example, one of the dogs that we have here at home is Casey. He was found in the local dog rescue unit down in Payson, Arizona, when we were living in that part of America. Casey had been confined in the dog rescue unit for coming up to a year, and probably hadn’t found a new home because he was a Pit Bull mix, and looked it. Two weeks before he was due to be ‘put down’, classified as being unadoptable, Jean brought him home.

The speed at which he settled in to his new home including, not too much later, a house move from Payson to Southern Oregon, was just wonderful. Casey never for a moment displayed any cautiousness or nervousness towards Jean and me, or, even more importantly, didn’t reveal any anti-social inclinations towards visitors who came to the house. Casey has a wonderful temperament and is a happy, lively, affectionate dog. Clearly, Casey harbours no grudges from past experiences. His forgiveness of the way his life had been dominated by the actions of humans is flawless.

With Payson in mind, there’s another example of how a dog so quickly puts past experiences behind them and embraces their new life.

For in Payson we knew the author, Trish Iles, who has the blog Contemplating Happiness[1]. Here is a lovely story from Trish, in her own words:

What the dog knew!

I was pondering the eternal question: why does two weeks of relaxing vacation seem like so much more time than two weeks of working like my pants are on fire, here at my desk? My sweet husband and I talked about it a little bit, but came to no definitive answer. I chatted with friends about it. No insights. Google had no opinion, either.

Chloe came to us from a rescue organization. I think sometimes about what her experiences have been in her young life. She started out as an abandoned puppy on a reservation in New Mexico and was soon in the pound where she was on the euthanasia list. A kind woman rescued her and took care of her until she found us: just when Chloe was becoming at home with the rescue lady, she was uprooted again and sent home with two new people. What must she have been thinking?

Chloe didn’t close her heart to us, though. She watched for a few days. When she decided we weren’t going to make dinner out of her and that she was really staying with us, she threw her whole being into becoming one of the family. She let herself trust us.

I’m not sure I would have had the courage to trust a new set of people again. I’m doubly not sure that I give a rat’s patootie what those new people thought of or wanted from me. Chloe was willing not only to trust us, but to love us. She forgave us immediately for ripping her from the home she knew, and she adopted us right back.

Chloe was born knowing. She knows about joy. She knows about living a life in balance. She knows about forgiveness, trust, exuberance, a passion for learning and the power of a good nap. I think that when I grow up, I want to be just like her.

Chloe knows about forgiveness.

Moving on. Much too late to make me realise the inadequacies of my own parenting skills, I learnt an important lesson when training Pharaoh, a German Shepherd, who came into my life as a puppy back in 2003; the first dog I had ever had. What I learnt was that putting more emphasis into praise and reward for getting it right ‘trains’ the dog much more quickly than telling it off. The classic example being scolding a dog for running off when instead there should be lots of hugs and praise for the dog returning home. The scolding simply teaches the dog that returning home isn’t pleasant whereas praise reinforces the belief in the dog that home is the place to be. Summed up by a phrase that I read somewhere: “Catch them in the act of doing right!

Like so many things in life, so very obvious once understood! There is no doubt in my mind that this approach, this philosophy, works with youngsters in just the same positive way.

Let’s focus now on the nature of forgiveness in people; in us humans.

There are, essentially, two options that we can choose to act out when we are hurt by someone. We can hang on to those feelings of anger and resentment, and possibly have thoughts of revenge, or respond with forgiveness. The first leads to wounds of anger, bitterness and resentment. The second leads to healing, to the rewards of peace, hope, gratitude and joy.

H’mm – deciding upon the best option could be tough decision! Apologies, I couldn’t avoid that flippancy!

The powerfully positive outcome from acting with forgiveness is that the act that caused the hurt loses, or is denied, any real emotional force upon one. You quickly put it behind you and focus on other, more positive parts of your life. That’s not to say that a significant act of hurt is forgotten, possibly not so for some time, it’s just that it lessens its grip on us, often significantly so. Indeed, quite often, forgiveness can give birth to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt us.

Moreover, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are blind to, or deny, the other person’s responsibility for causing you to be hurt, nor does it minimise, let alone justify, the wrongness of the act. The person can be forgiven, without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you and I get on with our lives.

Actually, the benefits of forgiveness are even more tangible than the subjective meaning of peace.

There is real evidence to show that the letting go of grudges and bitterness, of offering forgiveness can lead to:

◦ Healthier relationships
◦ Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
◦ Less anxiety, stress and hostility
◦ Lower blood pressure
◦ Fewer symptoms of depression
◦ Stronger immune system
◦ Improved heart health
◦ Higher self-esteem

Beats a few bottles of pills in spades!

Now, as I read back over those last few sentences it struck me as having the slight tone of a Sunday sermon. That what needs to be added to those stirring ideas is how does one learn to forgive, learn to forgive in a practical manner.

Psychotherapists, and others from similar backgrounds, say that forgiveness is the result of change; or more accurately put, a commitment to a process of change.

To put some flesh on the bones of that last idea, that forgiveness is the commitment to a process of change, what now follows are five recommendations. Resist the temptation to read on without pause, indeed just say to yourself that after you have read each of the five recommendations coming up, you will reflect for sufficient time for your head to embrace the meaning of each recommendation, and still remaining paused, give your heart time to engage with your head. I hope that’s clear.

Bring up in your mind an episode where someone else caused you hurt. It can be a recent episode or one from long ago that still has the potential to hurt you. Dwell on it for a while.

So to the first recommendation: Consider the values of forgiveness to you, not at a theoretical level, but to you in terms of where you are at this point in your life, and by implication, how important those values of forgiveness are to you at this given time.

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

So to number two: Reflect on the situation, the real facts of what happened, how it came about, how you reacted, and to what degree the situation has affected your life, health and well-being; or has the potential to so do.

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

Here is the third recommendation: Actively choose to forgive the person who hurt you. Possibly by re-reading this chapter down to this point. Actively chose to forgive that person now!

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

Number four, the penultimate recommendation: Stop seeing yourself as a victim of the hurtful event. Understand that by continuing to feel victimised, you are unable to release the control and power that the offending person, and/or the situation, has over you.

Stop! Look away from the page! Reflect on what that means. Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

The final recommendation; number five: As you let go of the pain, of the hurt, of your grudges, your life is now no longer defined by how you have been hurt. Better than that, the letting go opens your heart to finding compassion and understanding for the other person.

Think it with your head, feel it with your heart.

There is no question that forgiveness can be challenging at times, especially if the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong or doesn’t ever speak of his or her sorrow. But never allow yourself to become stuck. Reflect on the times when you have hurt others and when those others have forgiven you. Share your burden of finding forgiveness, such as writing in a journal, or through pray or guided meditation; even better open up to someone you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend. Nearly forgot: share your burden with your dog! They are such great listeners!

Never forget that finding forgiveness is a process and even small hurts may need to be forgiven over and over again.

In the vast majority of cases, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. Especially so when the hurtful event involved someone whose relationship you really value; for example someone emotionally close to you. However, there is one case where reconciliation is impossible. That is the case where the person who hurt you has died. However, even if reconciliation isn’t possible, forgiveness always is.

A quick afterthought tells me that there is a second case where reconciliation is impossible: when the person who hurt you refuses to communicate with you. As they say, it takes two to tango, and you always have the choice to walk away, to move on, to reflect that someone who hurts you and then stands in the way of reconciliation may possibly be better off disconnected from you; temporarily or permanently.

Never forget to respect yourself, to keep an open heart and mind and do what seems best for you in the specific situation.

The final thought for this chapter on forgiveness is not to think that it is about the other person needing to change; that isn’t the point of forgiveness. Forgiveness is about us, how it can change our lives through bringing peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. It also helps, enormously so, in allowing us to recognise our own faults, our own mistakes, and the times when we have hurt others, so that we can offer our apologies in an open and honest manner.

Forgiveness is one of the many precious qualities that we can learn from dogs.

2,036 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://contemplatinghappiness.blogspot.com/p/my-books.html

Written by Paul Handover

December 15, 2014 at 00:30

One clever man and his dog!

with 5 comments

A reposting of a fascinating item regarding Ra Paulette.

As is the way of our interconnected world, I clicked on a link in a recent post over on Sue Dreamwalker’s blog that then took me to an item on a new blog site from Vision Keeper called World Metamorphosis. The item was about an American, Ra Paulette, who …

The American artist Ra Paulette has spent the last 10 years carving wondrous creations in the walls of a cave located in Northern New Mexico. For many years now, Paulette has walked to work into the hot desert, with only his faithful dog by his side. After much hard work, Paulette has finally allowed the public to view the incredible masterpiece he has been working on all of this time.

It all began with a mile long walk into the wilderness where Paulette discovered the cave. He has since transformed the everyday limestone walls into gorgeous hallways and spaces that are surprisingly full of light. Learn more about the man behind the carvings and check out the magnificent cave artwork here! (Source: Phoenix is Risen)



Then it was a ‘hop, skip and a jump’ to go across to Ra Paulette’s website, where one reads such glorious details as:



Manual labor is the foundation of my self expression. To do it well, to do it beautifully, is a “whole-person” activity, engaging mental and emotional strengths as well as physical strength.

When digging and excavating the caves I break down all the movements into their simplest parts and reassemble them into the most efficient patterns and strategies that will accomplish the task while maintaining bodily ease. Like a dancer, I “feel” the body and its movement in a conscious way.

I’m fond of calling this “the dance of digging”, and it is the secret of how this old man can get so much done.

Then words that are more poem than anything else:

The Present

the world within the earth and ourselves

My final and most ambitious project is both an environmental and social art project that uses solitude and the beauty of the natural world to create an experience that fosters spiritual renewal and personal well being. It is a culmination of everything I have learned and dreamed of in creating caves.

A mile walk in the wilderness becomes a pilgrimage journey to a hand dug, elaborately sculpted cave complex illuminated by the sun through multiple tunneled windows. The cave is both a shared ecumenical shrine and an otherworldly venue for presentations and performances designed to address issues of social welfare and the art of well being.

In social art, creating the work of art is not the objective in itself, as in an exhibit, but is a means to bring about social change. The response to the artwork is not merely left to its audience as an endpoint in the process but is an element in a larger encompassing creative process. In the analogy of art being one of the colors on the social artist’s palette, the canvas would be society itself, its social conditions in a particular location. In using the aesthetic to address societal suffering, social art is not content with merely decorating the world; its intent is to change it.

Changing the world is a tall order. Art doesn’t attempt to force change through direct action but to catalyze it by affecting the emotional basis from which change can occur.

Begging the question, “How can we change what we do before we change how we feel?” Its underlying premise is that when through wonder and the sense of beauty we move from the emotional realm of our desires and fears to the more expansive and deeper feelings of thanksgiving and appreciation of life with a sense of its sacredness, our actions will automatically be modified, creating a better world – ‘like magic’.

This is the magic of art, music, theatre, and of the beauty of the natural world. We need for that magic to play a more direct role in our lives.

Please, please read the rest of these wonderful thoughts and ideas

Will close with another photograph of Ra working inside the caves.


Written by Paul Handover

December 8, 2014 at 00:00

The book! Part Four: The Brahma Viharas

with 7 comments

Time to reflect on the previous five chapters: Of change; Hope; Self-compassion; Goodness; Finding Happiness.

However, it wouldn’t be surprising if my opening sentence didn’t raise the odd question or two. Such as why a chapter that wants to round off the messages of change in thoughts and deeds is entitled The Brahma Viharas? What are the Brahma Viharas?

Let me offer my answers.

Long before I started into this book, I drew up a document that I called a Statement of Purpose (SoP). Writing such a document was prompted by an experienced author who made a link with me when I wrote the draft first half of this book, Part One: Man and Dog, under the umbrella of NaNoWriMo 2013. Or to give the organisation its full name: The National Novel Writing Month. I should explain for those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo that each November, NaNoWriMo offers budding authors a compelling reason to sit down and write 50,000 words in one month. I should hasten to add that the word Novel is flexible and that non-fiction attempts are equally encouraged. Guess that’s pretty self-evident!

Back to my SoP. The purpose behind such a document is to provide a framework of what it is that you wish to say before plunging headlong in to the writing. My SoP included an Introduction, my intended Reading Audience, the themes of the five Sections and intended chapter headings.

Once I had that documented, I showed it to some close friends seeking reactions and recommendations. I included Jon Lavin. It was Jon who suggested that I include the Brahma Viharas.

As I researched the topic, I was moved by how relevant it was to what I was trying to say. This is what I discovered.

Firstly, from the website of the Brahma Viharas organisation I read this explanation:

The four brahma-viharas represent the most beautiful and hopeful aspects of our human nature. They are mindfulness practices that protect the mind from falling into habitual patterns of reactivity which belie our best intentions.

Also referred to as mind liberating practices, they awaken powerful healing energies which brighten and lift the mind to increasing levels of clarity. As a result, the boundless states of loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity manifest as forces of purification transforming the turbulent heart into a refuge of calm, focused awareness.

Those two short paragraphs are laden with wonderful ideas, all of which resonated with the theme of Part Four of this book. However, I still was looking for something that spelt out just exactly what are the four brahma-viharas. A further web search brought me to a site described as The Dhamma Encyclopedia and thence to Page Four from where I read: “The four Brahma Viharas are considered by Buddhism to be the four highest emotions. The word brahma literally means ‘highest’ or ‘superior.’

A few sentences later, reading:

The Brahma Viharas are also known as the Four Divine Emotions or The Four Divine Abodes. They are the meditative states, thoughts, and actions to be cultivated in Buddhist meditation. They are the positive emotions and states that are productive and helpful to anyone of any religion or even to the one with no religion. The result will be a very nice and good person, free from hate and ill-will. Those who cultivate the brahma viharas are guaranteed to happiness. Those who further cultivate equanimity, may reach insightful states and wisdom of enlightenment experiences.

The Four Divine Emotions

1. Metta (Loving-kindness)
2. Karuna (Compassion)
3. Mudita (Joy with others)
4. Upekkha (Equanimity)
(from Anguttara Nikaya 3.65)

Loving-kindness, Compassion, Joy with others and Equanimity. A pathway to freedom from hate and ill-will. Who wouldn’t want to journey along such a pathway!

Yet it still didn’t envelope me in the way that I was expecting, so I continued with the research, and came across an essay by a Derek Beres under the title of The Trauma of Everyday Life. The essay had been published on The Big Think website and the opening lines tickled my interest; very much so. But first to find out a little more about the author: Derek Beres.

Derek Beres, a Los Angeles-based journalist and yoga instructor, looks at a range of issues affecting the world’s various spiritual communities in an attempt to sift through hyperbole and find truly universal solutions to prevalent issues facing humanity in the 21st century.

The opening lines of the essay answered an immediate question that was in my mind: “Like all major religions, there exists numerous ideas of what Buddhism is and how to practice it. Perhaps the hardest part about explaining Buddhism is that it’s nowhere near being a religion in the first place.”

Then me immediately warming to: “Rather it is a way of engaging and grappling with yourself and the world you live in, sans metaphysics and dogma.”

The essay then described much of the Buddha’s early days and his quest for a deep, inner meaning to life.

In Derek Beres’ words: “And so the Buddha set off, studying yoga and practicing extreme forms of asceticism, including nearly starving himself in hopes of transcending his body.” This eventually leading him to recognise, “ … trauma as a means of enlightenment, not a hindrance on the spiritual path. Awakening does not mean an end to difficulty; it means a change in the way those difficulties are met.

… a change in the way those difficulties are met.” What better way than that to round off this theme of change in thoughts and deeds. Me wanting to say straightaway that these chapters have been a wonderful pathway of exploration for me and, so too, I hope they have been for you. There can be no doubt in my mind, and I know this is shared by countless others, that the future for mankind, if we continue on the same ways of recent times, is clear and obvious: massive levels of extinction of man and many other higher species.

This is the time for change. Not tomorrow; not some day; but now.

1016 words Copyright 2014: Paul Handover

Written by Paul Handover

November 28, 2014 at 06:15


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